Sin can occur in multiple ways. One believer can sin against another individual. One believer could sin against a small group of people. A believer could sin against the church. Or, a believer could sin in a public manner. I am thinking mainly of the first 2 examples: I think they bring distinct challenges that broader, or more public sin, does not. What happens when someone sins against me?
In thinking through this matter, the first question that comes to mind is, “Do I really have to do something about this?” Peter says “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Proverbs indicates the wise person knows “love covers all offenses” (10:12) and covering an offense is seeking love (17:9). Paul says love “endures” and “bears” all things (1 Cor. 13:7). Do I really have to confront sin? For the sake of peace and love shouldn’t I just let it go? I mean what about that 70 times 7 stuff?
On the other hand, believers are not even to eat a meal with a professing believer who is guilty of gross sin (1 Cor. 5:9-11). Such sin includes anyone refusing to work (2 Thess. 3:6); anyone disobeying apostolic instruction (2 Thess. 3:14); anyone disagreeing with apostolic teaching (2 John 10-11); and anyone stirring up division by arguing over trivial matters (Titus 3:9-11). Whatever “covering” sin might mean, just ignoring it is certainly not included.
The apostle James points us toward reconciliation: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:19-20). The way to cover sin is not to ignore it, or get over it; the way to cover sin is to bring someone back from it. Confronting sin is the biblical way to cover sin.
In worship, Psalm 32 teaches us how to cover sin. Sin will always be hidden. It is just a matter of who is doing the covering. The blessed man has his sin covered (Ps. 32:1). The blessed man has gone through the painful process of trying to cover his sin (Ps. 32:3-4). His body aches from trying to hide his sin from God and man. Finally, he cries out to the Lord confessing his sin and bringing it out into the open. When he uncovers his sin (32:5), he finds the Lord covers it in His own forgiveness (32:1). Instead of hiding his sin, he hides himself in the Lord (32:7) and finds himself surrounded by the Lord’s faithful love (32:10).
In wisdom, Proverbs 28:13 echoes Psalm 32: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Yes, strictly speaking, this applies to the sinner and not to the one sinned against. If loving another person, however, means seeking their best, than we should desire to see someone guilty of sin confess that sin and not simply ignore it.
So one stream of biblical texts seems to encourage overlooking, covering, hiding sin; while another stream encourages not hiding sin, but confessing it. Both of these come together in well know sin-confronting passage of Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus, in whom is hid the treasures of all wisdom, lays out the path of confronting sin while covering it.
You do have to confront sin. But you have to do it as quietly as possible. Sin is not confronted on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Sin is confronted in person: face-to-face. If that does not work, some trusted friends are taken along to try to bring about confession. As a final resort, things are laid out before the church so the body of Christ may press and pray for confession and saving from death.